Wine: More than just Malbec

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Good news on the face of it for the bargain basement crowd, but low prices and small volumes do justice neither to the quality nor the availability of what's produced by this South American giant. As the New World's biggest domestic consumer, its own population has in the past mopped up its wines like a sponge. Today, rapidly declining consumption and a weak peso have forced Argentina to look to consumers overseas. But it's tough to get its voice heard, which why you won't find a single Argentinian brand in a top 20 dominated by Australia and California. With no UK office to promote its wares, it has also suffered next to the hugely effective efforts of Australia, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand and California.

So why am I optimistic about Argentina? For a start, it is belatedly due to set up its own office here in the autumn. But there's more to it than that. It took Chile until the mid-1990s to re-orient its vineyards and cellars away from plonk, and the message is finally getting through to Argentina. It has the resources, the sunshine, the unique soils of the high Andes and an unpolluted environment in which to produce a wide variety of styles. Yes, malbec is Argentina's USP but torrontés, tempranillo, bonarda and tannat also have great potential. As do the more usual suspects: cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and viognier.

At the everyday wine level, the strides made by companies such as Argento, Trivento, Zuccardi, Pascual Toso and Finca Las Moras have been considerable. Last week I sang the praises of the excellent, barbecue-friendly Argento Bonarda, £4.99, Morrisons, but both the 2005 Argento Malbec and Chardonnay, widely available, are great value quaffers. The fine 2005 Trivento Merlot, £4.99, Thresher, and 2005 Reserve Syrah, £5.99, Thresher are bargains at the price, as is the refreshingly peachy 2005 Finca Las Moras Viognier, £4.99, and 2005 Finca Las Moras Chardonnay Reserva, £5.99, Co-op. Higher up the scale, the 2003 Q Tempranillo, £9.99, Tesco, is a fine red berry fruit-infused expression of the Spanish grape variety.

I was particularly impressed at a recent Berry Bros tasting (0870 900 4300); www.bbr.com) with Pulenta Estate, whose 135 hectares of vineyard consist mainly of old vines. The opulent, tropically pineappley 2005 Chardonnay, £6.95, or £6.25 bottle / case, is a revelation, the 2005 Pulenta Estate Malbec, £7.25, or £6.52 bottle / case, delightfully full of plum and dark fruits flavours. But the pièce de resistance, and worth every peso, is the 2004 Pulenta Estate Gran Corte, £15.95, or £14.35 bottle/ case. In addition to the ultra-stylish packaging, this superb malbec-based blend punches above its weight with intense dark cherry and plum fruit concentration and subtle oaking. Their mission, say brothers Hugo and Eduardo Pulenta, is to produce "a limited series of wines, proudly made in Argentina". Mission accomplished then.

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